Update: Sidney Poitier's death certificate reveals that the renowned actor died of heart failure. Alzheimer’s dementia and prostate cancer were also listed as underlying health issues, CNN reports. Our original story from Jan. 7 follows:
There are few Hollywood actors who've enjoyed the cachet of Sidney Poitier, the first Black man to win an Academy Award for best actor and the star of such classics as Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and In the Heat of the Night. Hence, sadness in Tinseltown and beyond on Friday with the announcement from Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell of the Bahamas, where Poitier held dual citizenship, that the star has died at the age of 94, per IndieWire. A cause of death has not yet been revealed; a Bahamian news source says Poitier died Thursday night. Born in Miami on February 20, 1927, while his parents were vacationing in the US, Poitier was raised on Cat Island in the Bahamas, until he moved to Florida as a teen, then to New York City. He tried his hand at acting, though his heavy Caribbean accent made it a struggle to get roles.
Determined to become an actor, Poitier modeled his speaking style after American newscasters, and in 1946 he became Harry Belafonte's understudy in the play Days of Our Youth. His first film role came a few years after that, in 1950's No Way Out. Poitier earned his first Academy Award nomination for best actor in 1959 for his role in The Defiant Ones, starring alongside Tony Curtis as an escaped criminal, per the Wrap. In 1964 he finally nabbed that best actor Oscar trophy for his role in Lilies of the Field, in which he plays a former service member who helps nuns build a chapel, per NBC News. Poitier continued his film career with a conscious mission not to take on roles that perpetuated Black stereotypes, appearing in such '60s classics as Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, In the Heat of the Night, and To Sir, With Love.
He also tried his hand at directing, with varying success: His 1980 comedy Stir Crazy, for example, was the first film by a Black director to surpass $100 million at the box office, but his turn helming 1990's Ghost Dad, starring Bill Cosby, was a flop. Poitier's last acting role was a 2001 made-for-TV movie called The Last Brickmaker in America, per IMDb. He spent the last two decades engaged in various activities, including serving as the Bahamian ambassador to Japan and writing an autobiography and a novel. He was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by then-President Obama in 2009. The Wrap rounds up reaction to Poitier's death, including a poignant post from Westworld actor Jeffrey Wright: "What a landmark actor. One of a kind. What a beautiful, gracious, warm, genuinely regal man. RIP, Sir. With love." Poitier is survived by his wife, actress Joanna Shimkus; six daughters (two with Shimkus, and four with his first wife, Juanita Hardy); eight grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. (Read more Sidney Poitier stories.)